Rick Spielman and a deep Vikings contingent made time to pop into the University of Minnesota’s pro day on Monday morning. But after a couple of hours, when the scouts from 23 NFL teams put their stopwatches away and dashed toward the free pizza in the lobby of Bierman Field Athletic Building, Spielman and his crew boarded the team bus and headed back to work at Winter Park.
After all, with the start of free agency a week away, things are going to get hectic soon — though nowhere near as hectic as last year — for the Vikings and their general manager.
“There’s a lot of work that we have to get done this week,” Spielman said. “And then once free agency starts we’ll probably lay in the weeds a little bit and see what happens.”
This time a year ago Spielman was scurrying to complete new deals for defensive end Everson Griffen and quarterback Matt Cassel before they reached free agency. But this offseason, the Vikings don’t have any high-priority free agents, certainly none who received consideration for a franchise or transition tag, which had to be assigned by Monday.
One reason for that is that the Vikings were aggressive in signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and right guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions before the final season of their rookie deals.
As a result, their most noteworthy unrestricted free agents are a starting middle linebacker who played less than half of the defensive snaps (Jasper Brinkley), a journeyman defensive tackle who had a career year as a reserve (Tom Johnson), a lightning-rod third-string quarterback (Christian Ponder), a backup offensive lineman (Joe Berger) and their longtime long snapper (Cullen Loeffler).
The Vikings spoke with the agents of most, if not all, of their free agents at the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago about possibly returning. And while Spielman will continue conversations with some of them, it seems likely that players such as Brinkley and Johnson will be allowed to gauge their value on the open market.
Berger and Loeffler are certainly candidates to return at reasonable salaries, but the Vikings are not expected to bring back Ponder, a former first-round pick.
NFL teams were informed Monday that the salary cap for 2015 will be $143.28 million. After the release of veteran guard Charlie Johnson last week, the Vikings are slated to enter free agency with more than $20 million to spend. But Spielman said that “unless something unique pops up,” the Vikings plan to “just sit back” during the frenzied first day or two.
“We’ve been pretty patient through free agency,” he said. “We feel good about a lot of these young kids on our roster that could potentially step up and fill the void if we do lose some of our guys.”
Vikings, Peterson talk
Spielman said the Vikings have spoken to running back Adrian Peterson since he was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list on Thursday. They plan to continue to have an “open dialogue” with Peterson now that they are permitted to do so.
“We are able to have communication now with Adrian,” Spielman said. “We’ll keep all those communications internal. I don’t want to give you guys a [blow-by-blow account] every day. I think it’s been very clearly stated that we want to have Adrian Peterson back.”
The Vikings were only allowed to speak with Peterson through their legal team while he was serving his NFL suspension. But Thursday, the league placed Peterson on the exempt list after a federal judge overturned an NFL arbitrator’s ruling on Peterson’s appeal of his suspension.
Per league rules, the Vikings, most notably Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, can now speak with Peterson, something Spielman called “beneficial.”
Greenway to return?
Part of the work that Spielman said must be done over the next week could include paving the way for the return of veteran outside linebacker Chad Greenway.
Spielman said the Vikings would “love” to have Greenway finish his career with the Vikings, though he declined to say whether he would be required to trim his $7 million salary to return.
“I think everybody knows what type of player and person he’s been,” Spielman said.